Film: 'Jerusalema' Interview

2008-07-27 00:00

Jerusalema, which premiered in South Africa at the 2008 International Durban Film Festival this week, has lifted the standard of filmmaking in South Africa and should be another Oscar candidate for the country.

It is the fast-paced style of Jerusalema, which director Ralph Ziman uses in this action genre, that is perhaps more important, because it escapes the art-house trap that cuts off the interest of so many of South African cinema goers. Ziman’s film hero is Michael Mann and Jerusalema has clear references to Mann’s action film, Heat.

The art critics also applauded the filmmakers, who were in attendance at the Sun Coast Casino on Wednesday evening, with theatre giant John Kani telling Ziman that the film “raises the bar of film in the country”.

It took nothing extraordinary in terms of finance to make this film, Ziman tells Weekend Witness. “Some of my earlier music videos had bigger budgets,” he says. “We used skateboards as dollies on the film set and used old technology cameras to film the movie.” It doesn’t show; in fact, it feels like the hand of a major financier has given Ziman all the money in the world to make a real blockbuster movie. “No, we used old-fashion cameras and basically cut down on the crew and the all the other riff-raff. I would tell people on set, ‘if you’re not doing anything, please leave now’.”

“We made it on a low budget, but all films come down to planning,” he says. “Alfy, our grip, was so good that we were able to do away with the bulk of a proper dolly. That was particularly useful when we were shooting in Hillbrow, where we had to climb up stairs in unsafe buildings.”

Jerusalema touches on xenophobia and reflects the negative attitudes that many South Africans feel towards foreigners. “If you see the man in the taxi [in the film] talking about there being too many foreigners, you will see we are trying to mirror what we saw when we were researching the film,” he says. “It is a real issue.”

“In light of the recent attacks, I am glad the scene is in there, because as much as I want the film to be entertaining with lots of action, I also want it to be socio-politically thought-provoking.”

Ziman is bitter with the lack of support the National Film and Video Foundation showed them and he was incensed that their CEO, Eddie Mbalo, spoke directly before Jerusalema premiered. “Even though we made a film that has an all-South African cast and crew, they refused to help [financially].”

Mbalo, on his way to see Kani’s film Nothing but the Truth in Umlazi, spoke to Weekend Witness to respond to Ziman’s view. “We did give them reasons why we wouldn’t support them, but it came down to the fact that they didn’t need the money,” he said. “We promote the development of film and try to support those needing finance.”

“They [Jerusalema filmmakers] should be happy they didn’t get government support, because now that money will go to the less fortunate filmmakers,” he said. “I don’t think developed filmmakers should join the begging bowl queue; let us use state funds to get new filmmakers.”

*Jerusalema is showing for the last time at the Durban Film Festival tonight at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 8 pm. Then it will premier nationally at Maponya Mall in Soweto on August 27 and will open nationally on cinemas on August 29.

What is Jerusalema about?

It is the tale of a self-made Sowetan entrepreneur, Lucky Kunene (Rapulana Seiphemo), climbing the Hillbrow criminal underworld ladder one rung at a time. After exploring his youth in Soweto and rise to crime, the film takes you to Hillbrow where Kunene sets up the Hillbrow People’s Housing Trust and takes the skyscrapers from right under the owners’ noses. But, with the cops on his trail, Kunene will have to use all his skills, brains and street smarts, to survive this New Paradise. Jerusalema takes an unwavering and blisteringly stylised look into the crime, corruption, and transgressions of the new South Africa. This is what is happening on the streets today.

Who is Ralph Ziman?

Ralph Ziman was born in Johannesburg in 1963.

He has worked as a news and documentary cameraman for the SABC.

In the 1980’s Ralph moved to the UK and worked as a film editor in the music video industry, rapidly establishing himself as a top director.

He has filmed feature films such as Hearts and Minds, the first independent South African feature film to be completed after the fall of apartheid; and The Zookeeper.

He now works as a writer, both on his own projects and for hire.

He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Who is Rapulana Seiphemo?

Rapulana Seiphemo was born in 1967 in Meadowlands, Soweto.

He graduated from Fuba Academy in 1989 with a diploma in drama and playwriting.

He starred opposite John Kani in 1989 in My Children, My Africa, a play written and directed by Athol Fugard.

In 1995 he graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts from a university in the U.S.’

He has acted widely on stage around the world, such as Master Harold (1994) and The boys and The Blacks (2001).

He starred in Isidingo from 1998 to 2000 and then in Generations from 2002 to 2005.

He has starred in feature films such as Reasonable Man (1998), Hijack Stories (2000), Dead End (2001) and the Oscar-award-winning Tsotsi (2004).

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